First: a quick video plug that is relevant to this article! Recently, I appeared on a Livestream with our friends over at Fistful of Jokes where we discussed the second season of The Punisher (at least, to the varying points all of us had watched it then). So if you want to hear more about this season, check out the video below! I’m the one with garbage audio quality because I was using my phone, not a microphone.
This weekend I finally finished the second season of Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix. It’s about as lame duck of a television season as you can get, given that the writing is on the wall for its seemingly inevitable cancellation after Netflix canned Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil in the aftermath of all of their most recent seasons. That’s its whole own thing with the controversy over WHY they have all been kicked (all reports I have read seem to indicate they were solely Netflix’ decisions and not Disney’s, but that seems weird given how many shit shows Netflix has that no one watches), but all I can say is… it is what it is. It seems that Punisher lost 40+% of its season one audience for season two, and really… can you blame them? There are no stakes when you know the show has no future.
I will say that for those that are not planning on watching Punisher due to this: it’s a damn shame, because Punisher’s second season was phenomenal, and it marks the fourth Marvel Netflix season to earn at least an A grade from me.
With all the series winding down, here are my current grades for each as a recap:
Daredevil season 3/Punisher season 2: A+
Daredevil season 1/Jessica Jones season 1: A
Punisher season 1: B+
Luke Cage season 2: B
Iron Fist season 1: B-
Iron Fist season 2/Daredevil season 2: C+
Luke Cage season 1: C-
Jessica Jones season 2: F
Did I miss any? It feels like I am missing one. Oh well; I’m sure someone will tell me. But the point is: I was high on Punisher’s second outing. Unlike so many of the other shows, it almost never felt tedious, and the thirteen episode length did not feel unnecessary or dragged-out at all.
So the spoiler-free quick recap of season 2: Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is living life under the radar as Pete Castiglione after getting a free pass from Homeland Security at the end of season 1. He quickly befriends (and more) a bartender at a dive club, but is caught up in a murder plot while visiting her at work to establish the next step of their relationship. Several hitmen have been sent to kill a girl at the bar, and in the fighting, Frank’s new love interest is wounded. He takes her to the hospital and abducts the girl (Giogia Whigham) to find out why such a force was sent after her.
In the meantime, Special Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) is keeping a regular vigil on the hospitalized Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), not believing the amnesia he is claiming has wiped the last few years of his memory. He is in treatment with Dr. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima), a psychologist (?) who is trying to help him put his life back together. Billy eventually wigs out and flees the hospital, whereupon he ends up finding other lost former soldiers who feel abandoned by their country, and he convinces them to work with him to take something back from society. Mostly by robbing places.
Frank finds out the girl, Amy, is being sought after by an assassin named John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart), who has been hired by a powerful family, and she is in the crosshairs between them and a Russian mob. Before he can resolve issues with them, though, Madani brings him back to New York to help her out with Russo. This leads to Frank fighting two separate wars for the entirety of the season, with two equally engaging and bloody plotlines.
Also caught up in all the mayhem are Frank’s friend Curtis (Jason R. Moore) and Madani’s rival from the NYPD, Detective Mahoney (Royce Johnson), who all season long seem to hate the fact that they know any of these other assholes.
So yeah, I think that’s the first note to hit is that neither plot felt necessarily lesser than the other here. If either storyline had been the sole focus of season 2, that would have been acceptable, and running them both parallel did not detract from either. It was actually a boon because, as I alluded to above, some of these Marvel Netflix seasons have run into moments, especially mid-season, where things start feeling dragged out to pad the episode count. Here, the story could put Pilgrim on the back burner for a few episodes and let the Russo angle branch, and it could then switch that up for an episode or two to keep everything fresh. And both stories go right up to the very end, which surprised me; I spent most of the show wondering which would be resolved first so that the other could be the “final boss”, but… nope. Both Russo and Pilgrim remain at large until deep into the last episode. Even more interesting is that they never intertwine; so there is no climactic three-way war here such as the kind Daredevil season 3 gave us.
Giorgia Whigham is a treat as Amy, and her chemistry with Bernthal (who is wonderful yet again, and more brutal than he had been before) is tremendous. I really bought in to every scene these two shared and cared about their developing dynamic. The growth in their relationship feels entirely earned as the show goes on, and their final scene together has weight.
Honestly, there weren’t many characters in this show I DIDN’T like. I know others have had issues with the Dina Madani character, but she continually comes across as a believable victim of a life-altering event in which she was wounded both physically and emotionally. Her struggle with facing the line between the law and actual justice–and wrestling with which side she should fall on–made sense to me. When things happen to or around her, and her perspective shifts one way or the other, it makes sense in the context. If there was a character who MAYBE didn’t work perfectly for me, it was Krista Dumont, but to say much about why would be spoilers. The writing on her just felt torn between portraying her as a victim or as a manipulator, and some of her moments made me say “Wait, what now?”. Floriana Lima played the character well, it just felt like she wasn’t written with great consistency.
Conspicuous by their absence is Micro and his family, as they don’t turn up at all. Considering how fun of a character he was in the first season, it was a shame he didn’t return here. It might have been a bit much to have Frank hanging around with Amy, Curtis, [occasionally] Madani, AND Micro–that’s a lot of company for a mentally-damaged loner to be keeping–so I can see why he was excluded. But if there ever gets to be a third season, I’d like to see him return.
The season is an absolute bloodbath, and it does not shy away from high-tension, higher-impact wars. There are some wonderful scenes, too. Some that spring right to mind are Pilgrim pulling TEETH out of his scalp after he had earlier head butted someone so hard they imbedded there, and Amy’s distress over shooting a man, only for Frank to give him a killing shot so she wouldn’t have to know she “killed” him. But it’s full of moments like that, with either glorious violence or emotional heft.
I really enjoyed virtually everything this season had to offer, to be honest. It flew by as I watched it, and I cared about pretty much everything that happened. Fantastic stuff, and I hope somewhere, somehow, it finds its way to a third season.